1854: John Henry Hopkins to Hon. Samuel Greene Arnold

Rev. John Henry Hopkins

Rev. John Henry Hopkins

This letter was written by Rev. John Henry Hopkins (1792-1858), the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Fitzakerly) Hopkins of Dublin, Ireland. Hopkins became an iron manufacturer in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania with Quartermaster Gen. James O’Hara, but the War of 1812 proved disastrous to his business so he gave it up to study law and began practice in Pittsburgh. He taught at the Pittsburgh Academy and in 1824-25 and served as a professor of rhetoric and belles-lettres at the Western University of Pennsylvania, now known as the University of Pittsburgh. In 1823, Hopkins entered the ministry of the Episcopal Church in response to the call of Trinity Church in Pittsburgh, PA in which he was a vestryman. He also served as organist/choirmaster of Trinity Church from 1824-1830. In 1831, he accepted the charge of Trinity Church, Boston, and the next year was elected the first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, taking also the rectorship of a church in Burlington. He took great interest in education and made heavy economic sacrifices for its promotion. After 1856, he devoted his whole time to the care of the diocese. He became the eighth presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and served from January 13, 1865 to January 9, 1868.

Rev. Hopkins married Melusina Muller in 1816 and together they had thirteen children, one of which was Edward Augustus Hopkins (1822-1891). Edward (“Ned”) was a Midshipman in the U.S. Navy, but resigned after several instances of insubordination put his career in the Navy at risk. He was appointed Special Agent of the U.S. in Paraguay. He spent most of his life in South America promoting American exports to Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, and other countries. He made a fortune investing in various projects, including dredging harbors, building railways, ports, drydocks, and sanitary projects. He lost his entire fortune just before his death when revolutionaries comfiscated his dredging equipment and destroyed it. He married Jeanne Elvira Arnaud, who had been married to the French Minister to Brazil, in 1858. She died in 1883. In 1888, he married Marie Antoinette von Renthel, previously married to Baron Alexander von Renthel of Russia. She outlived Edward and died in 1902.

Hon. Samuel Greene Arnold

Hon. Samuel Greene Arnold

Rev. Hopkins wrote the letter to Samuel Greene Arnold (1821-1880), lieutenant governor of Rhode Island (and later a U.S. Senator).

Arnold’s early education took place in Providence schools and St. Paul’s College in Long Island. He then continued his education in 1836 at Brown University. During his studies he took some time off due to illness and traveled in Europe. When he came back to the United States he finished at Brown, graduating in 1841. From there he began working in the counting rooms of James T. Rhodes and went as a merchantman to St. Petersburg, Russia. Upon returning from Russia he continued his education at Harvard Law School, graduating in 1845. He was then admitted to the Rhode Island Bar. Inheriting wealth, Arnold traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and South America. We learn from this letter that Arnold was attempting to establish a Steamship Navigation Company between New York and Paraguay; his papers at the Rhode Island Historical Society include records for this venture.

1854 Letter

1854 Letter

Addressed to The Honorable S. G. Arnold, Providence, Rhode Island

Burlington, Vermont
April 6th 1854

My dear Sir,

You will pardon, I trust, the liberty I take in addressing you, being personally a stranger, although I feel as if I knew you well, through the description of my son Edward, who has often been eloquent in your praise. My apology however, must be found in his request that I would communicate the contents of his last letter dated the 25th of January from Buenos Aires to which place he had come from Asuncion in the expectation of finding the new vessel built for your New York & Paraguay Steamship Navigation Company. I presume that he must have written fully to yourself by the same opportunity but probably thought it most safe to guard against all possible accidents of miscarriage through the mails. by asking me to advise you of his position.

He states that not only was he disappointed of the expected new steamer, but that he received no intelligence whatever, which he attributes to the dishonest management of persons hostile to the whole enterprise, and determined, by all the means in their power to break it down if they can. He also states that he should return immediately to Asuncion, but that it would be a work of great difficulty to sustain the objects of the company with any credit, until relief could be obtained from headquarters; that nothing could surpass the favor which he enjoyed from President Lopez and the native population of Paraguay; while, nevertheless, the opposition of interested enemies — both American and English — gave him constant vexation.

Now it is not fr me, my dear Sir, to trouble you with any suggestions upon a subject which you who are the very head and heart of the whole company must understand incomparably better than myself. It is a vast and noble undertaking and one which I trust will produce an immense result, distinguished by most important and multiform aspects, upon the improvement of Paraguay, the influence of the United States on South America, and the fortunes of those who have embarked in it. But, like every great object and beneficial work, it must be attended at the outset by correspondent difficulties, which nothing but the most determined vigor and perseverance can overcome. And doubtless these difficulties, sufficiently great in the nature of the enterprise itself, are much increased by the systematic arts and opposition of those affiliated interests, which have hitherto held a virtual monopoly of the trade in that quarter.

Under such circumstances, I need not say that almost everything must depend on a prosperous beginning, since a failure, or an appearance of failure at the outset, will most probably produce a loss of confidence which many years may prove unable to regain. Of all this you must be a far more competent judge that any other person and your knowledge of that country, your high position, and your energetic talents in directing those who look up to you at their leader and their guide, are the only resource under Providence, on which the agents in the great work can rely, to stamp it with the desired prosperity.

I know, from the whole strain of my son’s communications, that he rests entirely on your wisdom and activity in the matter. As the original projector of the undertaking, he will exhaust his utmost powers in the performance of the arduous task which he has undertaken. And there does not now seem to be any obstacle to his complete success, if the necessary means be not wanting. Of course, I cannot but feel a very deep sympathy with him, in an effort to which the morning of his life has been devoted with such singular zeal, and for which he seems as singularly adapted. And the strange peculiarity of the circumstances which led him to a field so distant and almost unknown, and gave his own mind so unexpected a direction, has impressed me, I confess, with a strong conviction that a great and good result must be designed to follow, by that over-ruling Power who guides alike the steps of men and the destiny of nations.

Praying you to forgive me if in the natural solicitude of a father’s heart I have said more than is becoming. I remain, my dear Sir, with high regard & esteem, your fervid servant, — John H. Hopkins

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